Scored for soprano or tenor voice with piano accompaniment.
Movements and Duration
There is one movement: Leggerio (G major, 54 bars), lasting around two minutes in performance.
The source of the Italian text used by Tchaikovsky has not been identified.
Poco è l'ora ormai lontana,
Nothing is known about the composition of Mezza notte, although it seems likely that it was written under the influence of his singing master Luigi Piccioli. In his Autobiography (1890), Tchaikovsky recalled that:
I was seventeen years old when I made the acquaintance of an Italian singing master called Piccioli. He was the first person to take an interest in my musical gifts. The influence which he acquired over me was tremendous: even to this day I have not yet fully outgrown his sphere of influence. Piccioli was an inveterate enemy of German music, which he regarded as "clumsy, empty, and pedantic", whilst he professed an exaggerated fondness for Italian music. Consequently I became an enthusiastic admirer of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti, and, simple-minded as I was, I imagined that Mozart and Beethoven were ideal for sending one to sleep, and that there was nothing emptier than an opera by Mozart or a symphony by Beethoven. Now, in that regard, I have certainly undergone a considerable transformation, and yet, even though my predilection for Italian music has calmed down rather, and, most importantly, lost much of its former exclusivity and become more judicious, to this day I still feel a certain satisfaction when I hear the richly ornamented arias, cavatinas, and duets of Rossini with all their roulades, and there are some melodies of Bellini which I can never hear without my eyes filling with tears.
Mezza notte was Tchaikovsky's first published work. It appeared in the series Musée musical, published in Saint Petersburg by Yury Leibrock (Leybrok), and was unknown until a copy of the edition was discovered in 1903, ten years after the composer's death. Leibrock's edition is undated, but its style was consistent with scores printed in the late 1850s or early 1860s.
In 1940 Mezza notte was published (with a Russian translation) in volume 44 of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works, edited by Ivan Shishov and Nikolay Shemanin. This was based on the only extant copy of Leibrock's edition—discovered in 1926 in the archives of Jurgenson's publishing house in Moscow—which was subsequently lost.
The whereabouts of Tchaikovsky's manuscript score are unknown.